Red Wings Sloppy, BJs Better: Jackets 5 - Wings 3
We never thought the Wings would be facing a must-win situation against the Columbus Blue Jackets in early March, yet that's exactly where the Wings were and they blew it. The Wings were bad from the opening faceoff, and it carried through until the Jackets had a big enough lead they could coast and the Wings put a little scare in them. Ultimately it wasn't enough and the Wings have a big mess on their hand after failing to finish off the BJs.
The Red Wings surely wanted to start on time, and they did anything but. Columbus came on strong from the opening faceoff, and put the Wings on their heels early. The pressure paid off as the Jackets drew the first penalty of the game, a holding the stick call against Jonathan Ericsson. Despite some zone time, Jimmy Howard was strong in the net and kept the game scoreless. The Wings struggled to get anything going offensively, but they did get a power play of their own when Fedor Tyutin boarded Dylan Larkin. The Wings, predictably, had a couple of looks but couldn't convert. Matt Calvert took another boarding penalty, this time on Alexey Marchenko, but the Wings got zero shots on goal, and took a penalty of their own when Niklas Kronwall hooked the Jacket penalty killer. The period mercifully ended without the BJs finishing.
Shots: 16-4 Blue Jackets
Strong Period: Jimmy Howard
Tough Period: Literally everyone else except Gustav Nyquist
The period couldn't have started any worse. The Wings failed to clear the puck despite all 4 Wing penalty killers touching the puck, and then Luke Glendening took a tripping penalty to give the Jackets a long 5-on-3. Columbus wasted no time, scoring off a David Savard shot from the point that Howard never saw. The parade of penalties continued, this time Rene Bourque going to the box for hooking. The Wings, not wanting to completely frustrate the shit out of every single one of their fans for the entire game, got something going after Jeff Blashill put the lines in the blender. Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader played give and go, with Abby finishing up a nice little saucer pass from Nyquist to tie the game at one. The goal and new forward units seemed to give the Wings some life, as they began to spend more time in the Columbus zone. Unfortunately, a lucky bounce after an odd-man rush gave the Jackets the lead again, this time thanks to David Clarkson.
Score: 2-1 Blue Jackets
Shots: 24-15 Blue Jackets
Strong Period: Gustav Nyquist
Tough Period: Kyle Quincey
I said this before the start of the third period:
I never thought a third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets in early March could be a defining moment for the Wings, but here we are— Graham Hathway (@GrahamWIIM) March 9, 2016
The Wings obviously paid attention, because 26 seconds into the period Boone Jenner was left all alone on the doorstep and put home an easy goal to increase the Jackets' lead to 2. Andreas Athanasiou, getting as pissed off as the rest of us, took it upon himself to fight Matt Calvert, although he probably could have fared better. Nevertheless, the idea was to inspire the Wings to play better, and they certainly didn't play any worse. For a while. The Wings took back-to-back penalties again, and again the Jackets made them pay, this time when Cam Atkinson tipped in a shot that actually came off a broken stick. The Wings gave us all a lot of false hope with 2 late goals, one from Tomas Tatar and another from Athanasiou, and then Darren Helm hit both posts. Atkinson hit the empty net goal to seal the victory for the Blue Jackets.
Score: 5-3 Blue Jackets
Shots: 35-32 Red Wings
Strong Period: Mike Green
Tough Period: Niklas Kronwall
Points of Observation:
It's hard to come up with any positives after a performance like that, but if there was one bright spot, it was another quality performance from Jimmy Howard. Despite numbers that aren't great at first glance, he made 16 saves in the first period alone, and was the only reason why the Wings were not blown out from the beginning. It's crucial for Howard to hold the fort while Petr Mrazek figures out his issues, but this is what a good backup goaltender does; he picks up the team when the starter is struggling. He's your Player of the Game.
Beyond that, there's not a whole lot to say. I'm not about to break down what was good or bad because 95% of that game was hot fucking garbage minus the #FalseHope part at the end when they decided to pull their heads out of their asses and actually look like they gave a damn. But anyone who has watched this team at all this year knew that it wasn't going to end with a miraculous comeback. And if anything, that mini-rally actually made me angrier, because it meant that we had to care when we all just wanted to be angry at this team. Angry because, after getting their asses handed to them in the last 2 games and knowing that they are only 2 points away from falling out of a playoff spot, and they played what could possibly have been their worst game of the year. Outside of Howard, the team looked like absolute garbage in the first period. There was nothing they did right, and it carried over to the second and third period. The Wings can continue to say all the right things, but until they can somehow execute on the ice, they're just empty words.
The worst part is that it's the veterans that are the biggest culprits. Niklas Kronwall was nothing short of terrible. Henrik Zetterberg could have sat out and no one would have noticed. Jonathan Ericsson continues to be a liability. Brad Richards was demoted to the 4th line. Luke Glendening took a dumb penalty that led to the Jackets' 4th goal. And yet Athanasiou and Tomas Jurco and Dylan Larkin are the forwards playing the least amount of minutes (although in AA's case, that was partly due to his 5 minute penalty).
Tonight's loss was on every single player and coach except for Howard. In what should have been a game that showed the Wings were angry about their recent losing streak and desperate to stay in a playoff spot, they looked like it was the second half of a back-to-back against an AHL team. I've been watching this team for a long time, and I can't remember a time when the team looked more out of sync or unable to complete the simplest of plays at any given moment. In a lot of ways, tonight really feels like the defining moment for the Red Wings, with Thursday's game against the Jets an opportunity for the Wings to show us whether they plan on playing beyond April or they're just ready to pack it in and call it a season. Maybe that's being dramatic, but after the effort they put in tonight, it's hard to have confidence that they can turn it on and make the playoffs for the 25th straight season.
I will say this to the people hoping to see the playoff streak end because they believe that it will lead to something major happening: be careful what you wish for. If you are convinced that missing the playoffs will mean the Red Wings will drastically alter their lineup, I won't try to change your mind. But understand that what you think the Wings should do to get back to being a contender and what they will actually do are two very different things. I'm firmly on board with the team doing something to get out of the valley of mediocrity they find themselves in, but "missing the playoffs" may not be the catalyst that everyone thinks it will be.